Homeowners Policies & Jewelry

After receiving valuable jewelry, it’s important to contact an insurance agent immediately. It’s important to keep in mind that most homeowners policies place limitations on coverage for personal valuable items. This means that owners of these valuable items may not receive the full value if any of the items are stolen or lost. As a general rule, most homeowners policies provide coverage for possessions up to 50 percent of the total coverage amount chosen. This means that a person who has a $600,000 policy would enjoy coverage as much as $300,000.

However, most policies place limitations on certain types of personal belongings. For example, a policy provider may offer to cover $1,500 or more for all jewelry if theft occurs or the jewelry is damaged. There are several other categories of personal belongings that have limited reimbursement terms. Firearms, stamps, furs, coins and silverware are examples of such items. Homeowners should be sure to read the section of their homeowners policies regarding contents and additional coverage. It’s important to remember that accidental loss is not usually covered. This means that a woman who loses her engagement ring will not receive payment from the homeowners insurance company.

Homeowners who want to raise their coverage limit to ensure protection for loss and theft cases should contact an agent immediately. It’s best to ask the agent to schedule the particular jewelry item or add a special rider to an existing policy. In some cases, a written appraisal may be required, so it’s best to ask an agent if this will be necessary. Usually a detailed receipt is sufficient proof for the value of the item. After a value schedule is assigned to the item, the owner has full protection for the total amount if the item is lost, destroyed or stolen. This makes the claims experience more simple since there isn’t a need for an investigation about the item’s value. In addition to this, there is no deductible assigned to the items.

Since additional coverage is so affordable, it’s best for all homeowners who have valuable jewelry or other special items to speak with their agent. Agents are able to make an assessment of what should be insured and provide valuable advice. As a general rule, homeowners policies don’t assign specific limits on electronic devices aside from the overall limit for possessions. It’s best for homeowners to insure their valuable items in such a way as to ensure that replacement-value coverage is in place. To learn more about the various types of riders and affordable coverage options, contact an agent today.

Dealing with Homeowners Policy Exclusions

Property exclusions exist in Sections A and B of a homeowners insurance policy. The following are some of the most important exclusions to be aware of:


Collapse If a home collapses, there is no coverage provided unless the cause is included in the list of additional coverage inclusions section.


Flood – This is one of the most important exclusions to be aware of. In the eyes of insurers, there is a large difference between water damage and flooding. It’s important to keep in mind that flooding hasn’t been covered in homeowners policies since the 1960s. In 1968, the government implemented the National Flood Insurance Program. Even those who don’t reside in flood zones should have this valuable coverage. Heavy rains and hurricanes often cause flooding in areas that usually don’t see it.


Freezing – If heating, air conditioning or plumbing systems freeze, the damage is excluded from a homeowners policy if the dwelling has been vacant or is in the process of construction.


Homes Under Construction – When thieves steal property or materials from an unfinished home, the loss is not covered by a homeowners policy.


Retaining Walls, Foundations & Nonbuilding Structures – Damage to swimming pools, fences, docks and similar structures from thawing, freezing, weight or pressure of water is not covered by a homeowners policy.


Mold, Wet Rot & Fungus – Damage caused by these issues is not covered if it’s due to a sump pump, sump or similar equipment. It also isn’t covered if it’s from a gutter, roof drain, downspout or equipment that is similar.


Risks Of Direct Physical Loss – This is the section of a homeowners policy that lists any other exclusions. Some examples of common exclusions are smog, rodents, birds, wear and tear or owned animals. It’s important to read it carefully to fully understand it. If there are any questions or concerns, contact an agent to clarify the terms.


Concurrent Causation Exclusions – Homeowners policies explain how loss is handled if a specific cause is covered but another is not.


Malicious Mischief & Vandalism – If the dwelling has been vacant for a period exceeding 30 consecutive days prior to the damage or loss, this exclusion exists.


Coverage sections A, B, C and D have several exclusions. Loss from any events that take place as a result of law enforcement on the property are excluded. However, endorsements are available to be added to a policy to provide this coverage. Damage or loss from earthquakes or landslides is also excluded. Power failure, neglect, water damage and war are also causes of damage that are excluded.


Sections E and F of a homeowners policy provide liability coverage. However, there are several exclusions in those sections to be aware of. Intentional injuries to other people are excluded. The business of an insured person is not covered by a homeowners policy. Premises held for rent, professional services, locations not listed on the homeowners policy, watercraft and motor vehicles are also not covered under a homeowners policy. Liability damages from war, owned aircraft, sexual molestation, abuse, communicable diseases and controlled substances are not covered. Coverage for home day care is very limited under the property section of the policy but is excluded under the liability section.


Although these exclusions exist, there are many add-on options available from insurers to provide coverage for such areas. There are also separate insurance policies for some exclusion. Flooding is one example. However, there are some exclusions that simply aren’t covered under insurance policies or additional coverage purchases. Harm to others from controlled substances is an example. The best way to avoid such problems is to take the proper preventative measures to avoid being in a position to suffer loss from any exclusions. The first step to getting coverage for exclusions is to speak with agent. An agent will be able to provide valuable information about extra coverage options and a list of ways to avoid suffering loss from issues that aren’t covered by insurance.

Avoid the Damage of Winter

Many disasters caused by winter weather conditions can be prevented by taking a few simple steps. Although it’s hard to think about such things during warmer months, it’s important to be prepared when the colder weather arrives. It’s hard to predict the weather in the future. However, long periods of low temperatures frequently experienced throughout history have proven that it’s important to be prepared.

Regular homeowners policies provide coverage for ice dams, burst pipes, loss from fires and wind damage from snow or ice. When snow melts, it can cause serious damage to a home. One of the most common causes of catastrophic loss is winter storms. Although wind and hail are the most common causes of insurance claims, freezing and water damage follow close behind. It’s important for homeowners to carefully review their insurance policies before winter arrives to understand what is covered. It’s crucial to have ample coverage for rebuilding a home and replacing all the belongings in it. It’s also helpful to consider purchasing sewer backup insurance.

There are several ways to prepare a home for winter and the damage it usually brings. Consider the following tips:

1. Clean out all gutters – It’s important to remove all sticks, leaves and debris. This helps the melting ice and snow flow smoothly. It also prevents ice collecting and forming a dam, which can result in water seeping into the house’s ceilings and walls.

2. Keep trees and branches trimmed – When branches hang over houses during the winter, they’re likely to accumulate snow and ice, which may make them break. Branches falling on homes can cause significant amounts of damage. They may also hurt people who enter the property.

3. Use gutter guards – These guards are useful for preventing interference of water flow from debris.

4. Seal cracks and holes – Caulk all holes and cracks to ensure that melted snow and wind can’t enter the home.

5. Keep steps and handrails safe – It’s important to ensure that steps and banisters are sturdy. If they accumulate snow or ice, they can contribute to serious injuries.

6. Use insulation liberally – Homeowners should add extra insulation to basements, attics and crawl spaces. When heat escapes through the roof, it contributes to ice and snow melting faster. As the moisture melts, re-freezes and accumulates, it can cause a roof to collapse.

7. Maintain a warm temperature – It’s best to keep the thermostat at 65 degrees to prevent pipes from freezing. The temperature in the walls is always colder than the temperature in the house.

8. Call the professionals – The heating system should be checked and serviced every year to prevent fires. It’s also important to ensure that smoke alarms are working. Carbon monoxide detectors are another valuable safety feature that should be placed in every home. In addition to this, homeowners should have a contractor evaluate the home for structural damage. It’s best to identify and repair minor problems before they become a disaster.

9. Be familiar with shutting off the water – Homeowners should know how to do this, and they should know where their pipes are located. When pipes freeze, it’s imperative to act quickly. When going away for an extended time, it’s best to have someone look after the home or have a service professional drain the system.

10. Add an emergency pressure release valve – By adding this to a current system, homeowners will have a system that is protected against increasing pressure from frozen pipes.

Deciding on Separate Rental Car Coverage

Insuring a rental car is a process that confuses nearly everyone. Most people don’t consider this type of insurance until the issue is brought up by a sales representative at the checkout counter. While rental insurance may sound like a good idea, it’s important to know what is covered and what kind of coverage may already exist before purchasing it. It’s best to call an agent and a credit card company before purchasing rental car coverage.

When calling the insurance company, ask how much coverage exists for a current vehicle. If the rental car is used for recreation, the same deductibles and coverage held on a personal vehicle usually apply to a rental car. If the car is used for business purposes, the same coverage doesn’t exist. Vehicle owners who drop their collision or comprehensive coverage to save money are not covered if the rental vehicle is damaged in an accident or stolen. It’s important to ask if an insurance company covers administrative fees, towing charges and loss of use for a vehicle. There are several insurance companies that offer riders for such coverage, which makes it less expensive to purchase coverage from the rental car company. However, it’s important to remember that diminished value isn’t covered by insurers in many states.

Credit card companies and the banks they use differ in the terms of coverage they offer for rental cars. For example, a gold card may offer less coverage than a platinum card would. Usually loss and damage are the only coverage provisions offered by credit card companies for rental cars. Damages to other vehicles, property of others and personal belongings are usually not covered. Although some companies provide coverage for towing, they usually don’t provide coverage for administrative fees or diminished values. It’s also important to keep in mind that many credit card companies have changed their policies in recent years, so cardholders may not have the amount of coverage they originally had. To learn about the type of coverage available from a credit card company, call the toll-free number on the back of the card. Be sure to ask for written information to be sent by mail or email. As a general rule, credit card company coverage should be used as secondary coverage to temporary insurance from the rental company or from personal auto insurance. If there are multiple credit cards available, call each company to find out which one offers the best provisions.

There are usually several different types of coverage offered at the rental car counter. Loss damage waivers, which are commonly called LDWs, are not technically insurance products. However, they do clear renters of the financial responsibility of theft or damage to the rental car. LDWs may also provide coverage for loss of use, administrative fees and towing. There are several incidents that may void LDWs. It’s important to understand the contract terms thoroughly before purchasing this coverage. Be sure to check with an agent before buying this type of insurance in order to avoid duplicate provisions. Liability coverage offered by rental companies must be in accordance with individual laws for the state in which the company is located. As a general rule, these amounts are minimal and provide limited coverage. Umbrella policies are much smarter investments. Speak with an agent to learn more about umbrella policies. Personal accident and personal effects coverage options also exist. They provide limited coverage for auto accidents and loss or damage of personal belongings.

Insurance Checklist for Home Buyers

There are many different issues to consider when looking for the perfect home to purchase. One of the most overlooked issues is insurance coverage. However, it is one of the most important aspects about home ownership. It’s essential for those who are shopping for a home to factor in the cost of insurance. Before going out to look for a home, consider all of the expenses the purchase will incur. There are several other things to do before preparing to sign the final documents.

Get A Credit Report

Everyone is entitled to one free annual credit report. It’s important to review the report for inaccuracies and derogatory information. Dispute any inaccuracies immediately. If a creditor can’t verify a debt, it will be erased from the report. Having good credit makes it much easier to obtain a good interest rate. Good credit also helps individuals qualify for an insurance discount. If a credit report isn’t good, it’s important to take the necessary steps to improve scores and eliminate derogatory information.

Get Renters Insurance

Anyone who is shopping for a home but is currently renting should get renters insurance. It’s important to keep this coverage until a home is purchased. Renters insurance provides protection for renters from the liability of injuries sustained by others while they’re on the property. It also awards compensation if personal belongings are stolen or destroyed.

Research The Nearby Fire Department

One factor affecting insurance that most people don’t think of is the nearby fire department. If the location has permanent staff and has high ratings, the home will cost less to insure. Homes that have nearby fire hydrants also cost less to insure. Adequate water supply, trained firefighters and ample equipment are all important aspects of determining home insurance rates.

Consider Natural Disasters & Bad Weather

Although homes along the coastlines are more desirable, they’re more expensive to insure than inland homes. It’s important to plan on a windstorm or hurricane deductible for a home on a coastline. This amount is not a flat cost. It is a percentage of the estimated cost to rebuild the structure if it is destroyed. These percentage variables usually differ from one state to another. Even if the home is located in a state that doesn’t have a coastal border, it’s important to consider other natural disasters. Flooding and earthquakes are important issues to consider. Be sure to investigate the area’s history of flooding and earthquakes. Keep in mind that these coverage options must be purchased separately.

Know The Home’s Age

While older homes have their own unique beauty, they’re more expensive to insure than newer homes. Since some of the ornate features of older homes are more difficult to replace, the insurance premiums are higher. In addition to this, their plumbing, electrical or gas systems may be old enough that they’re considered risky. If this is the case, they result in a higher insurance premium.

Consider Swimming Pools & Other Features

Homes with swimming pools usually cost more to insure. Since a swimming pool is expensive to replace and poses a safety risk, it is considerably more expensive to insure a home that has one. Hot tubs, saunas and any other features that may pose a liability issue require careful planning for insurance. It may be best to purchase an umbrella policy to ensure liability protection.

There are several other things to consider when looking for a new home. For example, a roof that is new can positively affect insurance rates. However, an older roof that needs repair will cost more to insure. Homes that aren’t up to code also cost more to insure. It’s important to speak with an agent before agreeing to purchase a home. Agents are happy to look over the property’s details to determine how much of a risk the home is. When the time comes to purchase the perfect home, an agent can help arrange ample insurance coverage for the future. 

Why Earthquake Insurance is Important Everywhere

When most people think about earthquakes in the United States, California and Alaska are the two states that come to mind. However, earthquakes can happen in any part of the country. Many people move out of areas that are prone to earthquakes after experiencing one to escape the possibility of a repeat experience. The truth is that there is no place that is completely safe from earthquakes. They are a very real threat that everyone must consider and plan for. One of the most vital aspects of proper preparedness is having ample insurance coverage.

Earthquake damage isn’t covered in the majority of homeowners policies. This is also true for business policies. Both types of policies specify that damage from earth movement is not covered. While actual damage from a quake may not be covered, property insurance may provide coverage for fires and other incidents that occur as a result of it. Policyholders should scour their policies to understand the specific exclusions. If the policy seems difficult to read, it’s important to contact an agent with any questions.

Many people think they won’t experience a major earthquake during their lifetime. This is especially true for those who live in areas where earthquakes happen every 100 years or less. Although many people may not experience a strong earthquake like the recent Virginia incident, there are over 5,000 incidents recorded each year by the USGS. Damage from earthquakes has been recorded in all 50 states in history. There have been reports of damage in 39 states alone since 1900. This proves that while some people may not live in areas that commonly experience earthquakes, they’re still not immune to the threat.

Earthquake insurance is available as a rider, which is added to a business or personal property policy. People who have one of these types of coverage should contact their insurer to find out what coverage options are available. Since they’re unpredictable and happen suddenly, it’s best to be prepared for all types of disasters. Earthquake insurance is so important that it can’t be stressed enough. While the majority of people assume all California homeowners have this type of coverage, research indicates that about 12% actually have this type of insurance. The nation’s average is less than 12%.

Earthquake insurance costs vary by location, building type and the age of the building. It’s much more expensive to insure older buildings. In addition to this, brick structures are more expensive to insure. Buildings with wood frames withstand the force of earthquakes better, so it’s cheaper to insure them.

To offer an example, a home with a wood frame in Washington may cost between $1 and $3 per $1,000 of coverage. The same home may be less than $.50 per $1,000 insured on the East Coast. However, a brick home may cost between $3 and $15 per $1,000 in the Pacific Northwest. In most East Coast locations, the same home may only be between $.60 and $.90 per $1,000.

Every earthquake policy also has a deductible. This means that homeowners must pay upfront for a portion of the damages before the insurer pays the remaining amount. The deductible may be up to 20% of the structure’s replacement value. The percentage depends on the insurer and the location of the structure.

There are also options for renters. There are coverage policies that protect personal property. In addition to this, they usually cover living expenses if the building becomes uninhabitable after an earthquake. It’s important for renters to keep a list of belongings and their values. Major appliances, furniture, electronics and other expensive items must all be documented properly. A new way of creating a record of belongings is making a narrated video tour of the home and focusing on belongings.  It is best to contact your insurance agent to secure the earthquake coverage that is right for your individual needs.

Filing a Homeowners Claim

It’s necessary to file a claim with the insurance company if a home is destroyed by a storm or a visitor is injured. It’s important to keep in mind that a homeowners policy is a contract held between an insurer and an individual. This means that there are specific procedures and rules to follow. It’s important to thoroughly read an insurance policy to completely understand individual responsibilities. There are a few pointers that every homeowner should remember.

Immediately report all crimes to the police.

It’s important to notify the police of any vandalism, burglary or other crime. Homeowners should also obtain the names of any police officers involved in the report or investigation. It’s also important to write down the names of all law enforcement officers after speaking with them on the phone.

Make all necessary temporary repairs.

Don’t shell out thousands of dollars for full repairs to a damaged property. It’s best to pay only for supplies to temporarily repair or sustain something. For example, if a window is broken, it’s best to pay for boards and nails or tape and cardboard to temporarily repair it. It would be pointless to pay for an entirely new window until after the claim is honored. Homeowners should save all receipts of items purchased for making temporary repairs.

Call an agent immediately.

After calling the police for any crime-related issues, it’s important to call an insurance agent. If the nature of the claim doesn’t involve a crime, phone an agent immediately after discovering the issue that will become a claim. Since there are time limits for some claims, it’s important to follow this advice. Ask the agent what steps must be taken. Agents are also able to provide advice regarding how long the claims process will take.

List all damaged items.

Don’t discard any items that are damaged before the insurance adjuster is able to survey them. Photographs and videotapes are also acceptable forms of proof in most cases. After making an inventory, make a copy for the insurance adjuster.

Obtain the necessary claim forms.

After receiving notification of a claim, an insurance company must send the proper forms to an individual within a specific time period. The best way to avoid delays is to ensure that the paperwork is filled out correctly.

Keep all receipts after relocating. 

Not everyone has to relocate after filing a claim. However, if the dwelling is uninhabitable, it’s important to remember that homeowners insurance has provisions for living expenses to some extent. It’s best to keep receipts in order to show written proof of expenditures.

Homeowners should carefully follow each of these steps. After filing a claim, it’s best to have an insurance adjuster come out as quickly as possible to survey the damage. Most insurance companies arrange for adjusters to visit a residence. To learn more about this process or to obtain answers to other questions, contact an agent.

Protecting a Home from Mold

It’s important to have a plan and routine in order to protect a home from mold. This involves constantly looking for watermarks on ceilings or walls, signs of mold growth and musty smells. If mold is caught early enough, it can be removed with a simple cleaning solution of bleach and water. However, preventing mold from growing again requires that the source of moisture be eliminated. The area where the mold started growing must also be dried properly. In some cases, the surface or area may simply need to be replaced. After cleaning the mold and attacking the source, be sure to place all rags, clothing, materials, paper and other debris affected in a plastic bag to be thrown in the garbage.

Mold is similar to insect infestations and rot in the respect that it is usually not covered under a homeowners insurance policy. Standard policies afford coverage for sudden or accidental disasters. However, they don’t offer coverage for cleaning or maintaining a home. If the mold is a direct result of a burst pipe or other covered peril, the insurance company may cover the cost to eliminate the mold.

Since mold is also dangerous, it’s important to tackle the problem immediately if it arises. Mold can cause family members in the home to become sick. Symptoms are usually similar to allergic reactions or hay fever. The best way to avoid all of these problems is to take steps to prevent mold. The following steps can be taken to prevent mold from growing.

Reduce Humidity Level
It’s best to keep the humidity level between 30 percent and 60 percent by utilizing dehumidifiers and air conditioners. Be sure to place exhaust fans in all bathrooms and kitchens. If carpet is desired, avoid installing it in bathrooms or kitchens. It’s best to have carpet only in rooms that aren’t exposed to moisture on a regular basis. Another important thing to remember is to avoid letting water pool and collect under house plants.

Check & Replace Hoses
Be sure to regularly inspect pipes, fittings and hoses. It’s best to replace hoses to appliances that use water every five years. At about $5 or $10 per piece, the cost of replacing hoses is much less expensive than dealing with a major mold problem.

Use Mold-Reducing Products
Clean all bathrooms in the home with bleach and water regularly. There are also several other cleaning products available that are designed to kill mold. It’s a good idea to add mold inhibitors to paint before applying it to the walls or doors.

Exercise Caution After Water Damage
If at any time a large amount of water comes into contact with the home’s interior, it’s important to ensure that carpets, upholstery and any other surfaces that hold water are dried thoroughly and promptly. Everything should completely dry within 24 to 48 hours following the initial water contact. Items that can’t be dried should be discarded. If there is standing water, remove it promptly. In addition to promoting mold growth, standing water is a prime breeding ground for microorganisms. After all areas have been dried, wash and disinfect them well. This includes the surfaces of appliances, closets, walls, shelves, floors, heating systems and cooling systems.

Check The Roof & Gutters
Another way to prevent mold is to check the roof and gutters frequently. Clear the gutters of any debris. If there are any leaks in the roof, have them repaired immediately to avoid water seeping into the home.

While mold is problematic, it can be prevented with proper care. For any questions about mold and the specific terms of an individual homeowners insurance policy, contact an agent.

How to Avoid Post-Disaster Scams

Homeowners must exercise caution after their homes are destroyed by fires, tornadoes or other disasters. There are many dishonest scam artists and service providers who are ready to take advantage of distressed homeowners. They know that individuals who have just experienced such a great loss due to disaster are in a panicked state of mind. Since homeowners in such situations aren’t thinking clearly, scam artists are able to get the money they want. In order to avoid such a fiasco, simply avoid making rash decisions by talking to an agent immediately following a disaster to get a list of reliable service providers. When disaster strikes, this will make it easier to know who to turn to. In addition to obtaining a list from an agent, consider the following tips for hiring service providers.

Builders & Roofers
Avoid rushing when hiring a builder or roofer. It’s better to obtain business cards and written estimates from several service providers before making a decision. Make sure to ask for references and check them. Research the track records of the companies or individuals being considered for the job. It’s best to use professionals who have good reputations. One way to find a list of such individuals is to contact the Better Business Bureau. Individuals earn a place on this list by being honest and providing quality work. One scam that is common in building and roofing involves a service worker asking for an extremely large deposit to begin working. After starting the job, the individual or company will disappear. Never do business with anyone who asks for a large sum of money upfront.

It’s also important to beware of contractors who are pushy about spending a lot of money for temporary repairs. The purpose of temporary repairs is to provide a cheap and temporary fix. Payments for temporary repairs are covered in the total settlement from the insurance company. Homeowners who pay service providers large amounts of money for temporary repairs usually find that they don’t have enough to cover the cost of permanent repairs. A good service provider will offer reasonable rates for temporary and permanent repairs. Whether obtaining temporary or permanent work, be sure to keep receipts for services received in a safe place. Always ask an agent when in doubt about repair quotes.

Attorneys & Public Adjusters
Never make hasty decisions about hiring someone to handle an insurance claim. It’s especially important to be careful about individuals who offer their services by door-to-door soliciting following a catastrophe. Never let any company or individual use scare tactics to encourage a quick signature for immediate services. If such people surface in the aftermath of a disaster, they will likely victimize anyone who is willing to agree to their terms. These individuals usually offer quick or immediate service, which homeowners feel desperate for after a disaster. However, their efforts to make quick money usually leave victimized homeowners without enough money to pay for permanent repairs. Keep in mind that quality repairs take time to obtain after a major disaster.

Another thing to remember is that it’s best to settle a claim directly with the insurance company before considering using the services of a public adjuster or attorney. Insurance companies provide their adjuster’s services to policyholders for free. Be sure to ask an agent to help with filing a claim, and never hesitate to ask questions. Individuals who agree to work directly with the insurance company still retain the right to hire a third-party professional for help, so there is nothing to lose by working directly with the insurance company. If the claim is complicated and the services of an attorney are desired, make sure the individual selected is qualified. Ask around the community for advice about which attorneys are best. Another place to check for reliable advice about which attorneys are reliable is the county’s Bar Association. Keep in mind that attorneys ask for about 30 percent of the settlement, and public adjusters usually require 15 percent. The key idea to remember after any disaster is to contact an agent before making any decisions.

Understanding the Payment Process

An insurance adjuster is responsible for inspecting damage to a home following a claim. These individuals are also responsible for offering a specific sum of money that is to be used by the policyholder for necessary repairs. As a general rule, the first check received from the insurance company is meant as an advance toward the total amount of the settlement. It’s important to remember that it’s not the final payment. Separate checks are issued for each category of damage. Checks to cover living expenses are usually also sent separately. Individuals who are offered a settlement amount on the spot may choose to accept the money. If further damage is identified later, it’s possible to reopen the claim to request more money. Keep in mind that most policies require all claims to be filed within one year of the disaster’s occurrence. It’s best to check with an agent to learn about rules pertaining to individual state insurance departments.

People who have mortgages on their homes will receive a check for repairs that is payable to them and their lenders. This is because lenders usually require that their names be placed on the homeowners policy, which means they’ll also be named on any checks for claims. Since the lender has a vested interest in the property for as long as it’s under a mortgage, they have equal rights to the checks issued by homeowners insurance companies. When a lender’s name is on the check, the document must be endorsed by the lender before it can be cashed. As a general rule, lenders place the funds in an escrow account. They use the money to pay for the repairs until the work is completed. Borrowers must communicate with their lenders to ensure the repairs are done quickly and efficiently. After receiving a bid from a contractor, show it to the lender. Let them know how much money the contractor requires up front to start working. Keep in mind that a lender may want to have the work inspected before releasing enough funds to pay the rest of the bill.

There are some construction companies that require customers sign a form that permits their homeowners insurance company to pay the company directly. If this is the case, it’s important to be sure the final work product is acceptable before telling the insurance company to complete the final payment. There are specific guidelines that lenders must follow after a disaster occurs. To learn about these rules, contact an agent.

The first step to take after a disaster occurs is to total up the cost of all personal belongings. Use photos, videos and any other means necessary to prove ownership or show the condition of items that were destroyed. If there are receipts or sales records of any items, be sure to save them. Homeowners who have a replacement cost policy will receive reimbursement for the purchase of new items. Cash value policies provide reimbursement minus the cost of depreciation. Most companies require policyholders to purchase new items before they offer reimbursement for the destroyed items. To learn how reimbursement works and what type of compensation an individual policy offers, contact an agent today.

Checks for additional living expenses are made payable to the policyholder. Since the lender has nothing to do with these expenses, they don’t receive any of the money. If the check contains the lender’s name, contact an individual agent. Those whose homes have been destroyed have several options. They may rebuild on the same site. If this option is chosen, the amount of money awarded to rebuild will depend on the type of policy purchased and the amount specified under the declarations section. Some homeowners may decide to rebuild elsewhere. If this option is chosen, the amount awarded will be determined by state law, policy provisions and court rulings. Homeowners considering either option should contact an agent before making a decision. 

Choosing the Right Roofing Material

Every homeowner wishes for a roof that is cheap, never requires repair and will last forever. However, the average roof must be replaced or repaired about every 10 years. It is important to choose roofing materials carefully to get the most life out of a roof, lessen the amount of waste in landfills and use fewer natural resources. For example, the color of a roof impacts how hot or cold the attic and the rest of the home will be, which affects cooling and heating bills. Choosing the right material may yield a result that lasts for more than 30 years. There are many roofing materials available. Cost does not always determine the level of quality for many of the popular materials. The following paragraphs outline the positive and negative features of the most popular types of roofing.

Composition Shingles
These are a good selection for buyers who want an affordable roof that looks clean. There are also high-quality versions available that are constructed from fiberglass or asphalt, which are more durable. Composition shingles come in many brands, colors and types. The major advantages they hold include the following:

•Adjust well to different applications
•Can be nailed over an existing roof
•Easy to install
•Low maintenance
•Some brands may feature Class A fire protection.

However, there are a few disadvantages to consider:

•May blow off in strong winds
•Material is prone to scarring while hot
•Does not have the same aesthetic dimensional appeal as tile or shakes

Clay Tile
This tile is a good choice for Spanish, Southwestern or Italian styles of homes. Some of the biggest advantages they offer include the following:

•Long lifespan
•Will not burn or rot
•Resistant to insect damage
•Low maintenance

There are several disadvantages of clay tile. One of the biggest is its weight. This means that additional roof support is often required to hold the tile. The following are also disadvantages:

•Color fades over time
•Difficult to perform roof maintenance that requires walking on fragile tiles
•Difficult to install

Wood Shakes
This natural look is unique because shakes can be different widths, colors, thicknesses or cuts. The main advantages include the following:

•Helps insulate an attic
•Allows home to breath

Since they are wood, there are also several risks and disadvantages to consider. The following are the most important considerations:

•Many are unrated by fire safety codes
•Many manufacturers use spray or wipe fire retardants
•Difficult to install
•Lifespan maintenance cost may be high
•Old shakes cannot be recycled
•Prone to insect infestations

Concrete Tile
Some of these tiles are coated with other materials. Plastics, thin metals, enamels and various recycled materials are some examples. The following are advantages of concrete tiles:

•Long lifespan
•Low maintenance
•Good fire resistance
•Resistant to insects and rot

The following are disadvantages of concrete tiles:

•More expensive than similar materials
•May be prone to breaking, curling or changing color

This material is often seen on upscale homes. While it may be expensive, it offers a natural look. The following are some advantages of slate:

•Long lifespan
•Good fire protection
•Resistant to insects and rot
•Low maintenance
•Wide selection of sizes and natural colors

The following are disadvantages of slate:

•Can be heavy enough to require extra support
•Breakable enough to making walking on it not recommended

Metal Roofs
These roofs were popular in the 1700s, and they are making a comeback today. One advantage people like about them is that they can be designed to look like other types of roofing. The following are the main advantages:

•Energy efficient
•Fire resistant
•Very low maintenance
•Made from up to 65 percent recycled material
•Some types can be installed over an existing roof

The following are disadvantages:

•Difficult to install
•May not be as efficient as other roofing materials

Hot Mop
This is installed on flat roofs. It is not very attractive, so most people cover it with decorative stones. It can only be installed on roofs with proper drainage devices intact. While it is inexpensive, it poses several health risks because of dangerous substances in its material composition. 

Are You Prepared for a Sewer Backup?

While many homeowners assume otherwise, their insurance policies do not cover a sewer backup. However, there is separate coverage available. In comparison with the cost of dealing with the aftermath of a sewer backup, coverage is a true bargain. Homeowners are responsible for repairing and maintaining the portion of pipeline that connects their home with their city’s sanitary sewer main. Since this pipeline is actually owned by the homeowner, any parts of it that extend into the public right of way or street are also included. Working on these pipes is a costly chore, so it is important for all homeowners to know how sewer backups are caused. The following three types of blockages are the most common causes of backups.

Tree Roots Blocking Pipelines
Trees thrive on water, so their roots often gravitate toward cracks in sewer lines. While the growth starts with a few tiny roots penetrating the pipe, they eventually get thicker and expand. They often enter pipelines near the joints, which results in major blockages. Unfortunately, tree roots can eventually span the entire length of the pipe and cause a complete clog. If trees owned by the city are suspected of causing problems, contact their cleanup department immediately. They will often sample the roots to determine who is responsible for cleanup. In some situations, a combination of city trees and privately owned trees are to blame. When this happens, the city and the property owner must split the cost of cleanup and repairs.

Heavy Rains Clogging Storm Sewers
If a sanitary sewer or storm sewer is unable to contain the amount of rain falling, a backup may occur. Water typically enters the home through washtubs, toilets or sump wells in the basement. While damage is most common in the basement, it may occur anywhere in the home. To help avoid this problem, make sure there is a sump pump to drain the water and a generator that will run the pump if the power goes out.

Sanitary Main Blockages
Several types of blockages are possible in the sanitary main. Blockages result in sewage backing up into the home itself. Fortunately, this occurrence is gradual, so there is time to call a plumber before the house is overtaken with sewage. In some cases, there may be a rapid flow of water coming in through the basement. When this happens, it is important to call the city’s public works office immediately.

Each of these events can be very costly. Sewage and standing water can also be hazardous to human health. In addition to this, they destroy nearly every tangible object they meet in a home. A simple calculation of the cost of replacing damaged items and comparing it to the cost of insurance is enough to clarify the importance of adequate coverage. To learn how to obtain protection from sewer backups, discuss available options with an agent today.

State Minimum Auto Liability: Is It Enough?

State minimum insurance requirements are minimal. Most states demand less than $100,000 for bodily injuries and $50,000 for property damage. Some states require only $10,000 for property damage coverage.

How many cars valued at greater than $10,000 travel the highways? How many trucks carrying cargo are worth more than $10,000? $50,000? $100,000?

According to the 2010 census, the median family net worth exceeded $200,000. That amount includes houses, cars, savings, retirement funds, cash in the bank, college savings, and furniture and personal effects. Half the families are worth more, half have assets less than $200,000; all of it is hard earned.

If the family is underinsured for liability, their net worth is vulnerable to be seized in a lawsuit based on injuries or property damage caused by any family member driving a vehicle. The car owner and the car driver become parties to the suit.

Bodily injuries sustained in car wrecks devastate lives. People unable to work, the high cost of medical treatment, rehabilitation expenses, and the pain and suffering can only be compensated with money. The money comes from the insurance company or the liable party’s personal wealth.

Not convinced you need higher limits? Bankruptcy options are available?

Not all liabilities are released in bankruptcy. Many states have specific legislation disallowing debt reduction for certain accidents, most notably driving while intoxicated. Wage plans reduce take home pay by as much as thirty three percent. Many employers do not tolerate either bankruptcy or wage garnishments.

Still not convinced? How about a selfish motivation?

Other drivers are either uninsured or underinsured. Most insurance companies will not provide uninsured motorist coverage in limits greater than the liability limits of the policy.

Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage from your policy pays on behalf of the driver who hits you if they are poorly insured. In a classic exercise of the golden rule, insurance companies only sell limits commensurate with the protection you offer others.

Proper limits of liability allow you to protect yourself from the improper coverage other people maintain.

So how much coverage is enough? What are reasonable limits of liability?

Ask your insurance professional. And consider this:

Your assets are your excess insurance coverage. This means that when the limits of your policy are reached, your assets are at risk.Excess insurance – umbrella policy – is available in one million dollar layers over your automobile and homeowners’ liability limits if those limits qualify – are high enough.Protect yourself against underinsured drivers by increasing your uninsured motorist coverage.

Vehicle Type has Impact on Insurance Rates

The costs associated with purchasing a vehicle do not end when you pay the dealer. When you own a car, you must pay for gasoline, maintenance and car insurance. The cost of car insurance usually varies based on your driving history, age and the type of car you drive. While certain types of cars lower the cost of your insurance, others will raise it.

Car insurance companies determine the cost of your policy based on the risk of loss on insurance claims for the company. If the type of car you drive is associated with a larger number of expensive insurance claims, insurance companies will charge you a higher premium than it would charge if you were insuring a vehicle with fewer risks.

A car insurance company assesses the risk associated with your vehicle by examining past information about the vehicle and about the type of person that usually drives it. If drivers of the vehicle usually make more claims, the insurance company will assign a higher premium. Cars that are often associated with more claims are usually those driven for pleasure, such as sports cars. Drivers of pleasure vehicles travel faster and may pay less attention to safety regulations. Sports cars also tend to become damaged more easily.

On the other hand, if the insurance company determines that your vehicle type does not usually result in many expensive insurance claims, it may assign a lower premium. For example, minivan drivers typically make fewer insurance claims and thus pay lower insurance premiums. This is because minivan drivers are typically carrying multiple passengers, so they drive more safely. Drivers of minivans also tend to travel less during peak traffic times.

Along with the profile of the driver and the safety of the vehicle, insurance companies also look at the cost of repairing your vehicle when determining your premiums. If repairs made to your vehicle would cost more than repairs made to most other vehicles, it is likely that your insurance premiums will be higher than the premiums associated with those other vehicles. In most cases, the more expensive the vehicle is, the more expensive the cost of repairs will be. For this reason, cars that cost more to purchase also cost more to insure, especially if the car is worth more than $60,000.

Regardless of the vehicle you drive, your age and driving history will also affect the value of your premium. If you are a young or inexperienced driver, your rates will usually be higher than the rate charged to a driver with more years of experience. Likewise, if you have a poor driving history with many insurance claims, your rate will increase. 

Six Tips for Insuring Young Drivers

Now that your blood pressure has recovered from giving your teenage driver her first driving lessons, it’s time to add him or her to your insurance policy. But teenage drivers and young adults are historically risky clients for insurance companies – and rates generally reflect that. What is the best way to manage the situation?

Here are some things you and your new driver can do to keep premiums affordable.

Tell Junior to Hit the Books

Insurance actuaries – the bean counters who actually figure out the odds and set insurance rates – have long known that there is a correlation between good grades and good driving records. Kids who have the discipline and focus to do well in school statistically also have the judgment and impulse control not to get into a lot of accidents.

Many insurance companies offer a discount to students with good report cards. If your youngster has a GPA of 3.0 or better, you may qualify for a discount on your insurance premiums. One idea: Compare the difference in premiums with and without the discount – and make junior pay the difference himself!

Keep it in the Family

Insurers like it when everyone in the family signs up. So much so, in fact, that many of them will discount premiums on family members. It is generally much more efficient to add a young driver to an existing policy than it is to get a separate policy.

Use Multi-Line Discounts

Many companies will offer a discount if you use them for multiple lines of insurance. For example, if you have your homeowners or renters insurance policy with a company, and your life insurance, consider placing your car insurance with the same carrier as well.

Get an Older Car

Older cars are generally less expensive to replace than a new car. This means that if your young driver totals a 10 year old car, the insurance company has to pay less to replace the car than if she wrecks a brand new one. This translates to much lower insurance premiums if you carry collision coverage. Don’t skimp on safety – but don’t needlessly pay too much for a car for a young driver, either.

Skip Collision Coverage

You may want to consider skipping collision coverage altogether. For older cars, the bigger risk isn’t the cost of the car – it’s the covering your teenage or young adult driver against liability. You can recover from the cost of a single clunker. You can’t recover from a $100,000 judgment. If your family can afford to replace an old car, consider dropping collision altogether and adding to liability coverage.

Avoid Tickets and Accidents

The last part seems obvious to adults; It may not register yet with the kids. Impress on them the importance of maintaining a good driving record. Moving violations get recorded, and reported to the insurance industry. Even a single accident or moving violation can cause your premiums to skyrocket. And a single DUI conviction? Better invest in a bus pass, because those are the only wheels your kid will be taking for years. Coverage is nearly impossible to find once a young driver gets a DUI. 

Understanding the Basics of Insurance Deductibles

To get the most out of a car or home insurance policy, it is important to understand the roles deductibles play. A deductible is the amount deducted from an insured loss. When a damage claim is filed, the deductible is the amount of money a policyholder must pay upfront. It may be a percentage of the policy’s total or a set dollar amount. Larger deductibles are associated with smaller premiums. To find the verbiage concerning deductibles, consult the front page of the auto or homeowners policy. Deductibles are subtracted from the claim amount. For example, if a person with a $500 deductible files a claim for $10,000, that policyholder will receive a check for $9,500. However, if that individual’s deductible is calculated using percentages, the amount may differ. With percentages, the variable is calculated from the total claim and then subtracted from the total.

In many areas of the United States, deductibles are increasing. This is especially true in states prone to hurricanes. Property damage deductibles work differently than those for other types of insurance. For example, a deductible applies each time a claim is filed for auto or homeowners insurance. However, a deductible applies only once each year for health insurance. There are some exceptions for damage-related insurance products. In some cases, hurricane coverage has a per-season deductible. The following points cover some of the most important deductible information.

Deductibles Do Not Apply To Liability Claims

While there is no deductible for a liability claim with a homeowners or auto policy, there is a deductible for property damage. Deductibles apply to claims made to the comprehensive policy. In homeowners insurance, deductibles also apply to damaged items inside the insured structure. However, they do not apply if a homeowner is sued or if a medical claim is filed by an injured visitor.

Higher Deductibles May Save Money

One of the easiest ways to cut expenses is to raise deductibles for homeowners and auto insurance policies. Increasing an auto insurance deductible from $200 to $500 reduces collision and comprehensive premium costs up to 30 percent. Raising the deductible to $1,000 may result in a savings of more than 40 percent. Remember this is the out-of-pocket amount that must be paid regardless of the amount of the claim.

Flood Insurance Deductibles Vary

Since flooding is not covered in standard homeowners policies, it is sold by the NFIP and private insurance companies. There are several different choices of deductible amounts for these policies. Keep in mind that some mortgage companies require homeowners to keep their deductibles under a specific dollar amount. Flood coverage for vehicles can be obtained with an optional comprehensive plan.

Various States & Companies Affect Deductible Amounts

Insurance is a state-regulated product, and insurers are required to follow their state’s rules. The laws affect how deductibles are worded in policies and how they are implemented. Since there are a wide range of deductibles found in each state, it is best to compare policies. Keep in mind that doubling the deductible may save more than 20 percent on the cost of a policy.

Percentage Deductibles Apply To Hurricanes, Hail & Earthquakes

Earthquake deductibles may be much less than 10 percent or as high as 20 percent of the structure’s replacement value. Insurance rates are higher in states such as Nevada, Utah and Washington. Consumers in these states may choose higher deductibles to save money. There are special earthquake policies for California residents. To learn more about areas prone to earthquakes, discuss them with an agent.

There are two separate types of wind damage deductibles. The first is a hurricane deductible, which applies to wind damage sustained from hurricanes. The second type is a windstorm deductible, which applies to damages sustained from any other type of windstorm. Hurricane deductibles depend on specific triggers. These are usually designated by the National Weather Service, individual states and insurers. The triggers apply when a storm is officially deemed a tropical storm or hurricane. To learn more about how these triggers work, discuss them with an agent. Some states allow set deductibles. However, communities in high-risk coastal areas may have mandatory percentage deductibles.

Understanding Tree Damage & Your Homeowners Insurance

When a tree falls on a house, the first thing most homeowners wonder is whether their insurance will cover the damage. Fortunately, they do, and the coverage inclusions are clear. If a tree falls on a home or other insured property structure, a homeowners insurance policy provides coverage for the structure itself and the items inside of it. This type of coverage includes trees that fall due to hail, lightning or wind.

The fallen tree does not have to be owned by the policyholder for a claim to be approved. For example, if a tree owned by a neighbor falls over the property line onto a policyholder’s home, the affected homeowner’s policy will cover the damage. The affected homeowner must simply file a claim with his or her insurance company. Trees, branches and shrubbery have a tendency to become hazardous objects during storms, and insurance companies are aware of this fact. This is why they do not conduct extensive investigations to figure out exactly where the offending tree or shrub came from. Their duty is to assess the damage, figure out the reimbursement cost and issue a check.

In some cases, the insurance company may try to collect money from a neighbor’s insurer. This process is called subrogation, and it is usually initiated when the insurer feels that the offending tree was not kept well. However, this is the insurance company’s job. If the company is successful in proving the tree was poorly maintained, the policyholder affected by the damage may receive a reimbursement for his or her deductible amount.

If a tree falls on a home or insured structure, there is also coverage for the cost to remove the tree. This amount is usually between $500 and $1,000. Reimbursement numbers may vary from one insurance company to another. The amount also varies depending on the type of policy chosen. However, if a tree does not affect a home or structure, there is usually no reimbursement for damage or removal. Some insurance companies may extend special coverage for trees blocking driveways or handicapped ramps.

In addition to the previous coverage inclusions, standard homeowners insurance policies allow protection for tree damage due to theft, explosion, fire, lightning, vandalism, malicious mischief and vehicles owned by others. However, coverage is usually limited to a small percentage of the amount of insurance on the home or other property structures. As a rule, most insurers place a limit of $500 for any shrub, plant or tree. Shrubbery and trees grown for business purposes require special business insurance policies. To learn more about this type of coverage, discuss the options with an agent. 

How Credit History Affects Auto Insurance Premiums

Many factors are involved in determining an auto insurance rate. The age of the insured driver, the vehicle type and the individual’s driving history are all key factors. However, there is a more controversial factor used by auto insurance companies, which is individual credit history. It is important for all drivers to consider the following issues.

Credit Scoring
Insurers perform a credit check to determine an insurance credit score. They use FICO scores and credit history to assign a number. Each insurance company has their own method of calculating this score. By looking at specific items on a credit report, the insurer connects each one with either a positive or negative aspect of driving. They do this because many studies have shown that certain items on credit reports relate to the likelihood of people filing auto insurance claims.

Predictive Modeling
The practice of connecting various credit report items with auto insurance is called predictive modeling. While credit was not always used in the past, insurers still used a driver’s age and record to determine rates. For example, individuals who have several traffic accidents or tickets on their record are more likely to file claims in the future. In addition to this, statistics show that younger drivers have more severe accidents due to their lack of experience. These factors have remained true over the years. Many insurers feel that credit should be treated the same way as these other factors. However, it is much harder for consumers to understand their methods. Several court hearings regarding this practice have ended with insurance companies being able to prove that specific credit items really do relate to insurance claims.

Credit Considerations
Each company has rules for what aspects of credit should be used to calculate insurance rates. As it is with the FICO calculation formula, insurance companies assign a specific percentage to various credit items. While the aspects they consider are similar to the credit bureaus’ considerations, the percentages they assign are much different than the FICO method. The common factors insurance companies consider are current debts, types of credit, payment history, length of history, account balances, recent inquiries and bankruptcies.

Improving An Insurance Credit Score
By working on the areas of credit most companies review, it is possible to improve a credit insurance score. Be sure to keep balances low, pay all bills on time, keep old accounts open and close retail store accounts. It is also important to avoid applying for several new credit cards. As a rule, insurers check an insurance credit score every one to three years. Individuals who are working on improving their scores should ask insurers to recheck them before renewing a policy.

Reviewing Individual Credit
Some items on a credit report may be inaccurate. People who have common names often see items that belong to other people with the same name. In addition to this, some people experience the nightmare of identity theft. When this happens, there may be a long list of inaccuracies on a credit report. Be sure to dispute them. If identity theft is suspected, contact the major credit bureaus directly. In some cases, it is possible to receive an exception from an insurance company while a report is being updated. For any concerns or questions about insurance credit scores, discuss them with an agent.

Improving Road Safety with a GPS

There is plenty of controversy about how safe GPS devices are. Whether they increase or decrease safety depends on the driver. However, when used correctly, a GPS can be a great safety addition to any vehicle. The following reasons show good examples of why drivers are safer with a GPS system.

Drivers know where they are going. Lost drivers are usually distracted and dangerous additions to the road. They speed up, slow down and spend more time looking at signs than watching the road. When a GPS is used correctly, drivers can focus on the task of driving while the GPS navigates. If a turn is missed, the GPS will automatically recalculate the route to compensate for it.

Driving at night is safer with a GPS. Most people find it more difficult to drive at night or in low-visibility conditions. Fortunately, a GPS has the ability to warn the driver of upcoming turns or ramps before it is time to use them. The map previews are especially helpful for driving on dark back roads.

There is no need to deal with awkward paper maps. Juggling large paper maps and trying to refold them is a difficult task. Trying to read these maps while driving creates several hazards. Having a passenger try to read the maps may not always be beneficial. This is why it is easier and safer to get a GPS device.

There are special safety features. Hands-free features allow for calling the police while driving. There are also features for locating nearby hospitals, good repair shops and a wide variety of other destinations.

It is easy to choose the right lane. Some streets and freeways are confusing. Certain lanes may turn into exits, and congested traffic makes such situations worse. A good GPS system will tell drivers which lane to stay in, which exit to take and when to turn.

How To Turn A GPS Into A Safety Aid
The first driving task any person should accomplish is to be aware of his or her surroundings. By following some simple rules, drivers can stay aware and maximize the safety features of their GPS devices.

Learn to use the device before taking off. Although most people learn the basic functions before getting on the road, very few thoroughly learn the overall system. Beginners should practice using the GPS and become comfortable with the touchscreen. Make sure the features are optimized for visibility. One mistake many beginners make is keeping their eyes on the screen too long.

Never program the device while driving. Every start-up screen and safety manual reiterates this important tip. Enter the destination prior to departing. If it is necessary to change or cancel the destination while driving, pull over to a safe place to re-program it. Fortunately, some newer devices prohibit re-programming while the car is in motion.

Mount the GPS device in a safe place. When choosing a spot for the GPS, make sure it does not conflict with important sight lines. Positioning it near the dashboard is a good idea.

Always rely on the voice directions. While it may be necessary to occasionally glance at the map, try to rely mostly on voice directions. Avoid staring at the map. If it seems confusing, pull over to study it. 

How to Protect a Vacant Home

When the summer season approaches, many families and couples start planning their vacations. Whether the destination is near or far, it is important to make sure the home is properly protected. Locking the door and setting the alarm is not enough. The following five tips provide useful information for making a vacant home look less attractive to criminals.

1. Make the house look occupied. Although the home will be vacant, it is important to make any unwanted visitors think twice. If criminals think someone is home, they are much less likely to break in. Purchase timers for several wall outlets. By plugging lamps into these timers, it is possible to program the lights to turn on and off randomly throughout the day. Many DVR systems turn the television screen on when they begin a scheduled recording. If this is the case, set the DVR to record random movies and shows. Another way to make the home less attractive is to set up music to play at different times.

2. Have a neighbor check on the house. Everyone should make friends with at least one person or family in the neighborhood. Since most homeowners want to make their surrounding environment as peaceful as possible, they are usually willing to keep an eye on a vacant property. In addition to watching for burglars, they can watch for smoke or other serious problems with the home.

3. Keep windows, doors and all openings closed and locked. While this tip may seem like it would fall under the category of common sense, many homeowners forget to close a window or lock a door before leaving. Even a window that is slightly open may attract a criminal. When the home is vacant, there is no reason to leave any windows or doors unlocked. If a neighbor will be feeding a pet or bringing in the mail, supply that individual with a key. Never leave even a side door unlocked. Burglars also know that keys are hidden in fake rocks, under doormats or on windowsills, so avoid leaving extra keys out.

4. Hold mail and package deliveries. I:t is best to request a hold for packages and regular mail. A package sitting on a doorstep for a long period of time will look very attractive to a thief. Many criminals look through mailboxes for cards containing money, statements with personal information or any other items of interest. It is possible to fill out a convenient hold form online for regular mail.

5. Activate the security system. If the home does not currently have one of these systems, get one before leaving for vacation. In addition to sounding sirens and alerting law enforcement, they detect carbon monoxide and several other problems in the home. There are also wireless systems, which will still alert law enforcement officials if power cords are cut.

Vacations provide great opportunities for families or couples to enjoy time together. However, burglaries and disasters in the home have the potential to cast a pall on these happy memories. They also create needless hassles and expenses. Before taking off for vacation this year, be sure the house is ready.

Making your Smart Phone “Insurance Smart”

You have the phone and the capabilities that come with it. Using the phone to manage all of your insurance affairs is not only smart, it will put you ahead of the game if you need to access your insurance information or if you end up having a claim. There is no better place than having all the information and tools on your smart phone because it is likely with you at all times. The best news is, the resources are there and putting in place what you need is a snap.

The first thing you should do is to see if your insurance company has an app for your phone. If they do, downloading such an app is a no-brainer. These apps are available as a free added value service to you. The best part is that most of these apps have a number of capabilities. This includes nearly everything from accessing your policy information to submitting a claim and everything else in between. For example, if you get into an accident, some apps included the capability to take photos and submit them along with a claims form you complete right on your phone. This means you can submit a claim within minutes after the accident happened, along with all the photos documenting the incident.

While reporting a claims incident is probably the most valuable advantage of these apps, another advantage is having access to your policy information anytime you need it. What is your policy number? When does your policy renew? When is your next payment due? How much coverage do you have? All of this is right at the tip of your fingers. For example, if you need your policy number and information for your job or you are driving kids on a field trip and the school needs it, these apps make it easy to access all this information.

While most insurance carriers do have apps, even if your carrier does not have an app, the phone itself can be a valuable resource. For claims situations, the phone’s camera is just about the best mobile documentation tool you can have. Also, if you are away from home, the ability to connect to the internet to look up resources such as the nearest towing company, the insurance company’s website, and of course your agent’s phone number can be your greatest asset. Best yet, you can use the phone’s map to get directions to the closest place you may need to get to.

In addition to insurance company apps, there are a number of other applications that may be available. One example is a home inventory app that will help you to setup and organize photos or video of your entire home inventory. This can come in handy in the unfortunate event that you have a fire or are burglarized, as insurance companies will need an entire inventory to complete forms when processing the claim. Another example of a helpful app is a document storage and sharing app such as box.net or dropbox.com. These apps allow you to store and share documents and images virtually in what is referred to as a “cloud” format. This basically means that you can upload and save images from a computer to the cloud, and then you will have access to those images from your smart phone or any other computer.

Investing a little initial time to download and setup apps and other resources to make your phone insurance smart is well worth it. It will not only save you time when you need this information, it will allow you to be significantly ahead of the game, even possibly being able to provide enough evidence to prove you are not at fault in an auto accident. You are 95% there by having a smart phone, and the benefits are too great not to take that next step in using the insurance-ready resources that are available.

Important Fire Safety Tips to Avoid A Disaster

In a very short amount of time, a fire can accelerate from a small flame to an out-of-control blaze. Fires destroy thousands of homes in the United States each year, so it is important for all homeowners to take steps to prevent them. It is also important to know what to do when a fire breaks out and how to control it. Research shows that almost 80 percent of structural fires happen in peoples’ homes or apartments. Almost all of these fires are preventable, so fireproofing a home is the most important step to take.

There is much more to fireproofing a residence than purchasing a fire extinguisher and testing smoke alarms regularly. For increased safety, consider the following suggestions:

For Bedrooms
– Replace any mattresses made before 2007 with new ones. The Federal Mattress Flammability Standard was enacted then, and it was made to increase the manufacturing safety standards.

– Avoid using space heaters or electric blankets that are not approved by leading laboratories.

– Make sure electrical cords are not trapped against walls or under objects where heat commonly increases.

– Never put clothing or textiles on top of lamps.

– Make sure closets and other storage spaces do not have loose papers or other flammable materials lying around.

For The Kitchen
– Never leave food unattended in the oven, on the stove or in other kitchen cooking devices.

– Make a habit of using timers for cooking food.

– Avoid leaving flammable items on kitchen counters. Paper towels, cleaning supplies, oven mitts and shopping lists should be stored in safe places.

For Appliances & Electrical Outlets
– Leaving any appliance on increases the risk of a fire, so never leave the home without making sure all appliances are off. This also includes washers, dryers and dishwashers.

– Frequently clean stoves, change furnace filters, clean vacuum filters and empty dryer lint traps.

– Check the cords of fixtures and appliances frequently. If they are frayed, they should be replaced.

– Avoid plugging too many items into one electrical outlet or power strip.

– If fuses blow several times in a short time span, call an electrician immediately.

– Have the home’s wiring examined frequently. This is especially important in older homes, attics and crawl spaces where insulation can be ignited by sparks.

Unfortunately, even the most careful homeowners may experience a fire. Lightning could strike, and a burning tree or bush could engulf a home in flames during a dry lightning storm. For this reason, it is important to have ample insurance coverage. Homeowners and renters should discuss these options with an agent. 

How to Properly Prepare for a Wildfire

In the U.S. today, many homes are being built in wooded areas. Rural plains, forests and mountains are all becoming popular construction sites. Although homeowners in such areas enjoy fresh air and beautiful scenery, they also face the risk of wildfires. Some homes survive wildfires, but many are destroyed each year. However, homes that survive are almost always the result of prepared homeowners. By preparing now, homeowners in every risky area can protect themselves, their families and their homes.

Always practice wildfire safety. Avoid leaving fires unattended, and never start an outdoor fire pit on a windy day. Cigarettes should be disposed of in approved containers. To learn more ways to prevent wildfires at home, contact the local health department, fire department and forestry office. Make sure emergency vehicles have easy access to the home. Signs, addresses and home names should be displayed clearly. When someone else is doing something that may start a fire, report the activity to the fire department. Keep all matches out of the reach of kids, and be sure to teach them about fire safety. Families should also make an emergency escape plan, review it often and post it in a visible area with emergency phone numbers. It is crucial to talk to neighbors about fire safety. If all neighbors are vigilant and informed, it is easier to report flames before they become out-of-control blazes.

Make a safety zone around the house. When designing a home or landscape theme, be sure to select materials and vegetation that help contain a fire instead of spreading it. Non-combustible building materials and water-containing vegetation are helpful aids. Keep grass watered, and avoid letting any vegetation dry out. Keep in mind that conifers are more likely to burn than hardwood trees. When creating this safety zone, make sure it is about 30 feet to 100 feet in length, and it should encompass the entire home. Here are a few additional tips:

-Remove all dead leaves, trees or limbs from your property.
-Trim any tree branches hanging over the home or near chimneys.
-Have the power company remove branches near power lines.
-Remove vines from the home’s exterior walls.
-Clear the areas surrounding propane tanks or grills, and put a screen over the grill.
-Never stack firewood next to the home.

Protect and maintain the home. If there are any chimneys, have them inspected at least twice each year. They should be cleaned annually, and dampers should be in good condition. Have chimneys fitted with spark arresters. For more information about specifications for these products, contact the local fire department. The following steps are also helpful:

-Clean the roof and gutters regularly.
-Keep ladders and fire tools in accessible places, and teach family members how to use them.
-Use mesh screens below floor areas, decks, porches, attics and roofs.
-Make sure a functional dual-sensor smoke alarm is installed on each floor.
-Install fire-resistant shutters and drapes.
-Keep valuables and important documents in a fire-proof safe.

Plan ahead for water needs. Anyone who lives in a wooded area should have access to a small pond, a well, a cistern or a swimming pool. Installing a hydrant is also a good option. Make sure there is a hose long enough to reach from the home to an outdoor faucet or pump. If the home is in an area that freezes during the winter, be sure to purchase freeze-proof outlets.

If conditions seems favorable for wildfires, have a bag packed and ready to go. Have a radio or television on at all times. When evacuation orders are given, follow them immediately. Even if those who stay behind may not feel in danger of catching on fire, the smoke can be just as dangerous. Have a vehicle ready to go. If the garage has an automatic door, open it and disable the automatic function. Be sure to have any medications for family members or pets ready to go. Make arrangements for temporary housing at a hotel, a friend’s house or an emergency housing location. Be sure to call neighbors who might be concerned. Call a family member or friend, and tell that individual about any temporary relocation plans.